EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers were feeling good about themselves when they took a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference First Round after shutting out the San Jose Sharks in Games 2 and 3.
A young team with little playoff experience had impressively commanded its nerves and learned quickly that the Stanley Cup Playoffs require attention to defense and responsible play. The Oilers were in sync while bottling up the Sharks, and goalie Cam Talbot was spectacular in 2-0 and 1-0 wins.
But in Game 4 at SAP Center on Tuesday, things quickly unraveled.
The Sharks bit back hard with forward Joe Pavelski's first goal of the series 15 seconds after the opening faceoff, and it snowballed into a 7-0 loss.
Nobody saw that coming, especially the Oilers. But what happens next is even more important.
"It's 2-2," Oilers center Mark Letestu said. "To me, really, that's the only score that matters. We didn't play the way we wanted. You lose 7-0. Nothing went our way.
"At the same time, we've got to realize we probably strengthened an already strong belief system over there. Some guys, now they've got some confidence that now they can put the puck away. Our task is to be a little bit more difficult."
Discipline has become a focal point in the series. In Games 1, 2 and 4 combined, the Oilers played with fire and put the Sharks on the power play 20 times. The Sharks broke down another barrier with four power-play goals in eight chances on Tuesday.
"It's going to be tough to win games if you're spending 19 minutes in the box," Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson said.
That's why the Oilers must raise their awareness level when it comes to penalties. Play hard, but play smart too.
"You want to still play hard and be physical and any time there's a check to be finished, finish it," right wing Jordan Eberle said. "But at the same time, you've got to keep your stick down.
"A lot of the penalties are after the whistle. You've got to play between the whistles. That's a big thing, too. We want to be strong and play the game -- we're a big team and want to play to our identity, but at the same time you want to not cross that line."
The lesson on going over the line had some sting to it in Game 4; Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl was fined $2,569.44, the maximum allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, on Wednesday for spearing Sharks forward Chris Tierney in Game 4.
The theme of "big boys matter" surfaced as a major talking point for Game 4 and will become even stronger for Game 5 of this best-of-7 series at Rogers Place on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN, NBCS-CA).
"First off, we weren't hard enough on [their key players]," Larsson said. "We didn't play them smart. They were just a better team on everything [Tuesday] night. It was not just their top guys."
Pavelski and center Logan Couture each had two goals for the Sharks in Game 4, the first time in the series that either scored. Forward Patrick Marleau had his first goal of the series. Center Joe Thornton had his first point, an assist, in his second game of the series and Brent Burns, who led all defensemen with 76 points during the regular season, had his first points of the series (three assists).
"They had a push [in Game 4]," Letestu said. "There was obvious desperation in their game, and then we put them on the power play way too often.
"You put their big boys on the power play enough, they're going to find a way. So we have to start limiting those opportunities. It's going to be a little bit more difficult for us, but this team's been up to the challenge all year and our big boys are going to get going at some point."
McDavid, the Oilers captain, is no ordinary challenge for the Sharks. The Art Ross Trophy winner and the only player in the League to reach 100 points in the regular season possesses exceptional speed to go with his soft hands and his fast brain.
He's been held without a point in the past two games, which is noteworthy considering McDavid did not go three consecutive games without a point during the regular season.
"He's got to experience his way out of it," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said after Game 4. "His teammates and his coaching staff have to help him."
Perhaps being back home will help. With their fans behind them, it'll be up to the Oilers to respond after a rough loss on Tuesday.
"We're still a young group learning," Letestu said. "We learned one the tough way [Tuesday] night. If there's anything this team has been really good at, it's bounce-back games. We should be confident about going home."
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